By Hannah Schultz
On Wednesday, Aug. 27, Mitch McConnell spoke to a group of Asbury students in a Q&A style discussion in which environmental issues kept reappearing, though McConnell’s responses resulted in an ambiguous stance on the matter of climate change and environmental consciousness.
When asked about the national debt, McConnell said, “It’s highly irresponsible to leave behind this situation for your generation.” The stance Republicans like McConnell hold on the economic depression and its links to President Barack Obama’s policies has always been quite clear: the current economic slump is in large part due to overspending on bills like Obamacare and too much taxing. However, McConnell’s views on another rapidly growing problem which is being left for the next generation—the changing environment—still remain nebulous.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change held by the UN in March of 2014, climate change is already having effects in real time— melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters. In the coming years, climate change poses a threat to global food stocks and to human security. According to the National Resources Defense Council, as average temperatures continue to increase, Kentucky can specifically expect more public health risks from storms, flooding and waterborne illnesses, drought, extreme heat waves, and declining air quality.
When questioned about the “War on Coal,” McConnell turned to refuting the environmental consequences of the practice before continuing on to criticize the regulation of coal production and its effects on Kentucky’s economy. “So even if you believe that global warming is a serious concern, [coal mining] isn’t going to have any impact on it,” McConnell said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. carbon emissions increased two percent from the previous years due to burning more coal than natural gas. Though it is true that the U.S. has worked on reducing other harmful emissions from coal-producing plants, the carbon dioxide emissions, as well as water pollution and land resource use, make coal mining a serious environmental concern, especially for Kentucky as one of the top three coal- producing states.
In addition to stating that coal’s impact on the environment is negligible, McConnell asserted that the U.S. is not capable of pioneering environmental conscious practices on its own, so it should be more concerned with the economic consequences of halting coal production. “One country [changing environmentally negative practices] all by itself isn’t going to have any impact,” McConnell said Wednesday. “So if we do this all on our own, it will be about as effective as dropping a pebble in the ocean.”
In 2008, according to the EPA, the U.S. accounted for 19 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. A study by a research team for the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute in Australia in 2010 ranked the U.S. as one of the worst countries in terms of its environmental impact. According to Forbes, the U.S. is the world’s “unchallenged superpower”—exceeding all other countries in immigration rates, high technology, finance and business, higher education, military power, and GDP—and is capable of instigating change on an international level.
When questioned about the stance of Republicans on environmental issues, McConnell disagreed with accusations that Republicans are insensitive to the environment, mentioning Nixon’s founding of the EPA. However, McConnell did not propose any solutions to the problem of global climate change and sustainability, making his stance on the issue unclear. He instead turned the discussion back to the focal point of a majority of his answers—slow growth and the economy.
After this successful Q&A session, it is clear that young adults are stepping up and ready to be more involved in shaping the world in which they will one day be fully engaged citizens, including holding current government officials more responsible for the U.S. that they are leaving behind—particularly on the matter of environmental concerns. McConnell’s discussion on Wednesday is hopefully a step in the right direction of interacting more closely with the youth that will one day control the country.
“It is an impressive feeling. To have the de facto head of the Republican party meeting in a small school like this is an incredible opportunity that probably won’t be replicated for a long time,” said sophomore Brian Patterson after the talk. “I’m one step shy of ecstatic, even though I rarely agree with the man.”